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Congress' North Star


While the rest of the country might be witnessing a Modi wave, in J&K, the Congress not only holds the kingmaker’s position, but perhaps even the throne, says Haroon Reshi
HAROON RESHI | Issue Dated: March 23, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Aam Aadmi Party | Congress | Jammu and Kashmir | AICC | PCC | NC | PDP |

At a time when the Congress party, which suffered a major blow in four key state elections a few months ago, is losing its political ground in several parts of the country due to the BJP’s ongoing ‘Modi wave’ and the abrupt emergence of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the oldest political party seems to be flourishing in Jammu and Kashmir.

Congress has been enjoying a continuing privilege of being a government maker, if not the ‘king maker’ in this troubled state for the past 12 years.

Before the Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections in 2002, the All India Congress Committee’s (AICC) state unit, the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC), was not even noticeable in Jammu and Kashmir’s political scenario.

The party had won just seven seats in the 87-member state assembly in 1996. That was when many well known political faces like Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti was among the top leaders of PCC. The largest regional party, National conference (NC) had emerged with two thirds majority in these elections.

But six years later, in the 2002 assembly elections, a fractured mandate proved like a fortune to the Congress in Kashmir. In these elections, NC went down to 28 from 57 seats, Congress bagged 20 and the former Congress leader Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s newly formed People's Democratic party (PDP) surprisingly won 16 seats.

Thus, the just launched PDP and the Congress formed a coalition government in the state in 2002, with an agreement of sharing the Chief Minister’s post equally for three years.

In 2008, again, a fractured mandate paved way for the Congress to be a key ally in the coalition government, but this time the party decided to go along with NC instead of its previous partner PDP.

Now, when Jammu and Kashmir is preparing for its next assembly polls, due in October-November this year, all the indications suggest that the fractured mandate will continue to show up.

Clearly, the Congress party will again have an opportunity to be in power with either PDP or NC.

Apparently, with the continuous power-sharing in the state, the Congress has also attained the realisation of its significance in the state’s politics. So the party has its feet up in the air.

“I hope we will get enough seats in the assembly elections to be able to form the government on our own. If not, then at least we will be able to lead the coalition after the 2014 elections. People have faith on us because we do not play with the sentiments of the people. Our focus is on good governance,” PCC chief Saifuddin Soz told TSI.

That said, the key regional parties NC and PDP are trying to allure the Congress, the ‘government maker’. NC has finally decided to forge an alliance for the six parliamentary seats in the state, despite the fact that many top NC leaders are not happy with this decision.

It was recently announced that both the parties will contest three seats each in the upcoming Lok Shabha elections.

However, there is one strong voice within the National Conference which has been frequently raised against the Congress party for its ‘wrongdoings’ since day one of the coalition in J&K. And that voice is of the Additional General Secretary of NC and Farooq Abdullah’s younger brother Dr. Mustafa Kamal. In an interview with TSI, Kamal says, “The unfortunate fact is that we have been bound to run the government with the help of the Congress party. Although we know of their motives – they want us to vanish from the scene – that is not possible. We are a grassroots level party. I wish people understand the policy of the Congress and vote it out to provide us sufficient seats to make us a single governing party. We are the real guardians of the rights of Kashmiris. But there has been a conspiracy against us.”

He added, “When we were preparing  to pass an autonomy resolution in the assembly by a two thirds majority  in 1999, the Centre started to conspire to crush the NC. PDP was floated as a regional opposition against NC, and on the other hand, the Congress was accomodated to enable it to set up its bases here.”

The fact is that the NC-Congress coalition has not been much efficient during the past five years. It has been just a ‘marriage of convenience’. Even the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) could not be run by the combine in the state to that much success.

Omar Abdullah, who had pledged to provide “Corruption free” governance to the people, had to compromise several times due to political compulsions.

Just a few months after the coalition government was established in J&K in 2009, a senior Congress leader G M Saroori was accused of using an imposter for his daughter during the Common Entrance Test.

Former Pradesh Congress Committee head Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed too was charged in a similar case. He was accused of using his office as an education minister to facilitate a separate examination centre for his foster son in the Matriculate examinations.

Another senior Congress leader and the state minister for Public Health Engineering (PHE), Sham Lal Sharma, was accused of being involved in a spurious drug scandal. He was accused of granting permission to supply several sub-standard drugs to the government hospitals in the Valley.

Senior state Congress leader and a cabinet minister Taj Mohidin was accused of transferring a piece of forest land to his name.

Another senior Congress leader and the deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand was charged with corruption and molestation cases. His own PRO Kewal Kumar claimed in public that he has “Proof” against the Dupty Chief Minister.

Recently, another Congress leader and the state health minister Shabir Khan was accused of molestation of a lady doctor in his office in Srinagar. Khan was forced to resign after the police lodged an FIR against the health minister on court orders.

Agriculture minister Ghulam Hassan Mir, who owes allegiance to Congress, was in a serious controversy with charges of accepting payoffs from the army’s secret funds in 2010 to topple Chief Minister Omar Abdullah-led government.

Surprisingly, the Congress party did not take significant action against all its accused leaders at the party level. Only GM Saroory and Khan were asked to step down from their posts.

In 2009, when the crime branch confirmed the examination scandal against Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had asked him to quit; but strangely he sent his resignation to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi instead of submitting it before the Chief Minister. Not surprisingly, Gandhi did not accept the resignation and Peerzada continued in the state cabinet.

“By not taking any action against its erring leaders, the Congress party actually transmitted a strong massage to the coalition partner NC that it will live by its own terms. On the other hand, the lust of power made NC tolerate this arrogant attitude of its partner.” Hassan Zenagiri, a senior columnist tells TSI.

He adds, “Only to remain in power, both PDP and the NC, in their respective tenures, have been dancing to the tunes of the Congress party. Both the parties have violated poll pledges and the commitments they made to the people.”

Interestingly, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah himself has acknowledged a few years ago the fact that he could not succeed in tackling corruption in the state due to coalitions compulsions. “It is impossible to eradicate corruption in a coalition government,” Omar had said at the The Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi in 2012.

He added, “I believe that you can fight corruption but I also believe it is impossible to eradicate corruption in a coalition dispensation and that is the way it is. This is my opinion and you can have yours. This opinion is formed not because I am a Chief Minister of a coalition government for a few years.”

During the past five years, the Congress party has been compelling its key partner NC to fulfill all its demands, which are to help the Congress party to expand in the state.

Recently the Congress party almost but forced the National Conference to form 659 new administrative units in the state; most of the new units were formed  in the Jammu region where the Congress has its larger vote bank. NC had wanted to create administrative units almost in equal numbers in Jammu and in the Valley, as had been recommended by a committee headed by a retired bureaucrat Mushtaq Ganie in 2011.

But Congress pressurised the government to form a Cabinet subcommittee, headed by a Congress leader and the deputy CM Chand to reassess the Gania Committee report.  Finally, the Cabinet subcommittee recommended 659 new administrative units, 437 administrative units more than the previous 222.

Another long pending demand of the Congress is for extending the provisions of the 73rd constitutional amendment to the state to empower the Panchayat institutions in the state – this was also accepted by the government recently. Earlier, the NC was reluctant because the move empowers the panchayat members which in a large number are believed to Congress supporters.

On the other hand, the Congress party has visibly resisted some of the demands of NC in the state.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been continuously demanding revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the state, but the Congress has never joined hands with him on this issue during all these years.

NC also wished to adopt the recommendations of the working group on centre-state relations, headed by Justice (retd.) Sagir Ahmed, who recommended more autonomy for the state and rehabilitation of former militants who are stuck in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) after they went there for arms training in early 1990s at the peak of militancy in the state. A working group constituted by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and headed by vice-president M. Hamid Ansari had recommended that the government take steps to rehabilitate these youth.

The NC is in favour of the formation of the Trans World Muslim University under the aegis of Jamiat-e-Ahle-Hadees (JAH), a socio-religious organization, but the Congress party has been a hurdle in the formation of the University.

“Despite all the ideological differences with Congress, the NC seems to have no option but to keep its ally in good  humour, because annoying Congress means losing power. The PDP is always ready to form a government  with the Congress; and NC knows this,” says Tariq Ali Mir, a journalist.

Meanwhile, as mentioned earlier, all indications suggest that Jammu and Kashmir will have a fractured mandate yet again in the 2014 election, and this is what suits the Congress party.

“I don’t see any of the key regional parties, PDP or NC, getting the required strength in the upcoming elections to form a single party government. There will again be a coalition; and indeed, the Congress party will be the key ally, no matter whether NC or the PDP comes forward to be in the government,” says Prof. Noor Baba, who teaches in Kashmir University’s Political Science Department. He says that the Congress is in a position to play the role of the proverbial monkey among fighting cats, the PDP and the NC. “The Congress party is benefited by the NC-PDP rivalry. It has also been taking advantage of the support from the Centre. However, the party arrogance may go down if Congress loses power at the Center in the upcoming general elections. If BJP were to come to power in New Delhi, the J&K state Congress will not be able to dictate terms to its coalition partner in the state.”

Clearly, Congress may be losing ground elsewhere in the country but the party is surely in a good position in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Congress was first introduced to the people of Kashmir in 1965 by then J&K Prime Minister  Ghulam Mohd. Sadiq. He was the first to announce the formation of a Congress unit in the state. Now, after 50 years, the party is literally ruling not only the state but the state parties too. And that is a case study that national political parties can learn a lesson or two from.

Will all the forecasting of a fractured mandate really come true, or might we finally see a single party government changing the fortunes of the state in one term? As the proverbial statement goes, only time will tell which side of the coin wins this round; till then, the Congress will continue to dicate how to tell the time; and who to tell it to!

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017